Tell me about it
Syntax refers to the order of words in a sentence that makes the sentence understandable. While often a trouble spot for nonnative speakers, learning to navigate syntax improves fluency and comprehension, making it crucial for all students to master.
Considerations for instructional planning
- Look for instances and examples where syntax is unusual - perhaps for effect.
- Note juicy longer sentences that require breaking into manageable chunks.
- Be aware that ELLs will need direct assistance and support.
- Think not only about syntax in reading complex text, but also include it in writing assignments and instruction.
- Use mentor texts to teach syntax.
- Remember that syntax instruction benefits all students K through 12!
Be sure to
- Talk directly about syntax. Explain that words have a certain order in a sentence and sentences come in different patterns - and represent those ideas graphically!
- Play with word order in sentences to see if the meaning changes.
- Practice Sentence Unscrambling where students put meaningful chunks of a sentence into a logical sequence. Practice Sentence Expanding where students change basic sentences into more complex sentences. Practice Sentence Imitation where students work with different syntax patterns from mentor texts when writing.
- Use songs, poems, and choral reading to practice syntax.
Tools and Resources
- Experiment with Cloze sentences.
- Work with Juicy Sentences and read a teacher blog about Juicy sentences.
- Practice sentence combining
- Watch Lily Wong's Juicy Sentences in action in this video.
- The Academic Language Development Network site offers information about teaching academic syntax.
- Check out this Pinterest board with syntax activities.
- This interesting article from the National Writing Project is penned by a mother who worked with her son to improve his syntax when writing.
- Have fun with syntax; read Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose by Constance Hale.
- Check out Don and Jenny Killgallon's books on sentence composing. There is one each for elementary, middle, and high school.
- Laugh and learn with June Casagrande's book, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences.
- This PowerPoint presentation explores 7 strategies for teaching syntax as well as the research behind them.
- This presentation shows the connection between syntax and sentence combining.
- The Summer Edition 2013 of Perspectives on Language and Literacy Learning focuses on syntax and includes excellent articles:
- "Syntax Development in the School Age Years: Implications for Assessment and Intervention"
- "The Role of Complex Sentence Knowledge in Children with Reading and Writing Difficulties"
- "Syntax: Somewhere Between Words and Text"
- Glossary and Basic Vocabulary for Syntax
- Interesting PowerPoint: Syntax: Somewhere between Words and Text by Nancy Eberhardt
- Teaching student about coding can create an awareness of syntax